Whatever Time’s the Charm?? (Terminator Dark Fate, 2019)

Terminator_Dark_Fate_PosterTerminator Genisys was intended to kick off an all new trilogy following the exploits of Sarah Conner, Kyle Reese and Pops trying to stop the new version of Skynet. Of course, Terminator Salvation was supposed to kick off a new trilogy following the war against the machines leading to Kyle Reese going back to save Sarah Conner.  Which was a sort of continuation of Rise of the Machines.

Sort of.  Each sequel starting with T2 tried a twist, though the twist became the trope.  Arnold was moved from the “bad Terminator” to the “friendly Terminator”. This has never bothered my all that much, the way it was handled in each film usually worked okay.

And honestly, Pops was the thing I enjoyed most about Genisys. The failure of Genisys to revitalize the franchise left the series kind of lost. People got excited when there was talk of Cameron returning. And then they took the now popular strategy of making a sequel that ignores all but one or two of the earliest films. This time, they are picking up after T2: Judgement Day.

Sarah Conner tells us how she saved the world from Skynet, then the film reveals a shocking twist. We then are introduced to Grace who appears in Mexico, followed by the new Terminator, a Rev-9. He is in pursuit of Dani and Grace is there to protect her. They meet up with Sarah Conner and try to escape, ultimately reaching out to Carl, a Terminator who is displaced after the erasure of Skynet.

Carl is kind of an interesting character and honestly have no problem with it, as the second film established them capable of learning and adapting. I also, for the most part, like tough and bitter Sarah Conner, much like Jamie Lee Curtis’ updated Laurie Strode in 2018’s Halloween.  I also liked McKenzie Davis as Grace and Natalia Reyes as Dani.

The Rev-9 feels a lot like a slightly advanced T-X from Rise of the Machines.  A liquid metal coating over an exo-skeleton, except the two can work independently of each other.

The visual effects are solid and the action scenes are great. And yet, this is a Terminator film that kind of fundamentally betrays itself in a way the franchise really has not before. The big twist at the beginning has a major impact on the power of T2’s narrative. In a not good way.  It undermines this film and raises some big questions that the film never clearly establishes.  As an action film, this is a fun watch. As a Terminator film? It is not the fix that people were hoping for.

Life Without a Soul (Blade Runner 2049, 2017)

blade_runner_2049_PosterIt is 35 years since the first Blade Runner. Agent K is a blade Runner and also a modern replicant.  He is given a mission after the bones of a replicant are found that indicate she died in childbirth. Replicants should be unable to conceive, let alone carry a child to term.

K’s human boss wants him to find the child and kill it.  But things become complicated when he finds evidence that his false implant memories may be real, leading to the question of whether K is the mysterious child of Deckard and Rachel (Sean Young’s Replicant from the original film).

Further problems arise when we find that Niander Wallace, who has profited off the failure of the Tyrell Corporation and become the leading force of Replicant and digital A.I. technology, is also looking for the child.  The one thing that has eluded him has been the ability for replicants to reproduce.  He sees this as a key component in their evolution (well, most everyone does).

The films is visually stunning.  The neon dreams that fill the city, the holographic girlfriend Joi (showing both K’s isolation as a Blade Runner and Replicant and his desire to connect), the desolate Las Vegas…every shot in this film feels like independent artworks.

The ending gives the audience just enough to be satisfying without wrapping everything up in a neat little package.

Not playing coy about K’s identity as a replicant is something that gives the film strength.  In one scene, K expresses a concern about killing something “born” to his superior Lieutenant Joshi.  He notes that being born implies there is a soul there. Joshi sends him off with the cold note that he has gotten along fine without a soul. I am trying to determine if it is a problem for me that Joi is probably one of the most sympathetic beings in the entire film. But I suspect director Denis Villeneuve would like to hear that. By and large, the Replicants are the center of the show here.  Luv, Wallace’s right hand, is downright terrifying.

Villeneuve has given the audience a beautiful and captivating film.

Being the Alien (The Martian, 2015)

The_Martian_posterFor being a comedy, (thanks People’s Choice Awards) The Martian feels pretty serious.

That does not mean it is devoid of humor.  Really, most any solid drama with have humor to break tension.  And considering the situation Mark Watley (Matt Damon) finds himself in?  Tension needs to break.  After an accident leaved Watley left behind on Mars, (believed dead) he finds himself struggling to find a way to last until the next mission to Mars can pick him up…in about four years.

The Martian is a thrilling account of survival that manages to be filled with concern and joy.  Ridley Scott likes his epics, but this is very low key in that regard.  Instead, it is a focus on character and endurance.  We get a window into Watley’s thoughts by way of his video recording everything he is doing as a journal.  On the one hand, this could have felt like weighty exposition, and some might wonder why the filmmakers did not opt for the near silence of the first half of Castaway.

Damon’s delivery is light and accessible, rather than clunky, and it is easy to connect with the character.  One of the film’s strengths is how it manages to give us insight to our characters very quickly, especially the crew.  We meet them mere moments before the storm that separates Watley.  And yet, you get a feel for the relationship of this crew and the dedication they have to each other in those few minutes.

The cast is very strong, everybody turning in enjoyable performances.  The visuals are solid, considering it is a lot of reddish sand and rock.  Scott really seems to like films set on barren planets.

The Martian is an engaging sci-fi drama well worth viewing.

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